Italian idioms and proverbs


First one I learned was “In bocca al lupo

Literal translation: in the wolf’s mouth

Actual meaning/English equivalent: good luck!, fingers crossed, break a leg

Typical reply: crepi il lupo (literally “may the wolf die!”), or simply crepi!.

Quotes about Italy

Cool! I tried saying this phrase out loud. I’m not sure if I said it right or not. I think I did. I will be practicing this one a bit more.

Wise Italian sayings, stories, or words of wisdom?

If I read that and didn’t know it meant something like “break a leg” I would be worried! Haha!! This is why it is so important for us all to learn more about different countries and cultures. Some things that would seem mean/bad actually aren’t!


Same here. It is amazing to think of all the simply things we say from country to country often meaning the same thing with completely different words.


“Avere le braccine corte”

“To have short arms.”

Which means that you’re too cheap to reach into your pocket for your wallet. I love that idiom becuase everytime I visit italy Im pretty gregarious with my money, just like the locals.


Un cane in chiesa - literally “a dog in church” - and the meaning is referring to an unwelcome guest


I actually like that one Dan! I might have to use it next time my mom comes over to visit when my fiance and I are not in the mood or have to time for. lol


Hahah, I’m wondering how “In the wolf’s mouth” translates into words of encouragement, but that sounds pretty cool! I should use it around the office to seem cultured!


I love all of the proverbs you guys have listed. I’ve never heard of any of them. I really like the one Dan said: “un cane in cheisa”. That’s hilarious. I’m going to start using that one here in the US.

I found another one: “Avere la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca.” Translation: To have the wine cask full and the wife drunk According to the website I’m looking at, it’s sort of their version “having your cake and eating it too”.

I wonder how often these proverbs and idioms are actually used in Italy, and how much location changes their usage. I know in America the South has a lot of idioms that aren’t really used elsewhere.


Yeah I wonder this as well. It seems a lot of these sayings are from the old world or are heavily rooted within tradition. I would imagine the younger generations don’t say these things as much. Tends to be the trend in most countries you go to these days.


I find them hilariously funny and after all we use it to communicate a specific and usually quite precise meaning for which there is no exact word. Idioms/proverbs also give color and character, be it in writing or speaking.

Yes, you’ll find them more used among older generations as you need time to really master them.

Here’s another one:

Hai voluto la bicicletta? E adesso pedala!
"You wanted the bike? Now you’ve got to ride it!"
This is a sarcastic Italian phrase similar to the English expression “I told you so.”


You probably heard of “It’s a dog-eat-dog world.” or something similar to those lines.

In Italian, they have the opposite: Cane non mangia cane (“dog does not eat dog”). The meaning is the one you would expect, and could be translated by another English idiom: “honor among thieves.”


The complete sentence is Fortunato come un cane in chiesa (lucky as a dog in church) and is used to indicate unlucky people.[proverb of Milan]
In ancient times, dogs and vagrants were thrown out of the church by the “scaccino” (a man responsible for that job).
Dogs are still not allowed in church except in some special days.


Thank you for the addition.

Buono come il pane (“Good as bread”) - used to describe someone who’s generally known for being kind and generous, basically a good person. “As good as gold” would be something close in English.

And the complete opposite is:

Brutto come la fame (“Ugly as hunger”)

Lots of Italian idioms and proverbs have to do with food.


I know 3 more that have to do with food :smiley:

La farina del diavolo va tutta in crusca (the devil’s flour turns to bran) - it has to do with Karma, and it means that anything obtained through dishonest methods will eventually backfire.

Il diavolo fa le pentole ma non i coperchi (the devil makes the pots, but not the lids) - it means you can plan to do something dishonest, but sooner or later you’ll get caught.

Non tutte le ciambelle escono col buco (not all donuts come with a hole) - it means not everything is perfect.


I really like this one - “A ogni uccello il suo nido è bello.” Translated it means “To every bird, his own nest is beautiful”. Loosely translated in meaning to English it symbolizes the fact that home is where the heart is!


I learnt this two from my lecturer;
Botte Piccola Fa Vino Buono
“A small cask makes good wine” – A friendly compliment to a short person.

Buona Notte al Secchio
Literally, “good night to the bucket”, it’s used to mean “…and then we’re screwed.” Why there should be a bucket involved I do not know.


The idiomatic expression “essere al giro di boa”, that literally means “to go round the buoy”, is used to indicate that we are 50% down the road toward getting something done, and so at the halfway point.
This figure of speech comes from the world of boat races: when boats turn the buoy, they are approaching the second half of the race.


The word “zecca” is used to indicate both the tick and the Mint. There are idioms related to both meanings:

  • sei una zecca” (“you are a tick”): when we say this to a person, we mean to tell him/her that s/he is annoying/clingy, as the parasitic insect;

  • "nuovo di zecca” (“new out of the mint”), we mean to say that something is brand-new. It’s almost like the use of mint in English as an adjective (“That car is mint/is in a mint condition”).


This is quite a funny story actually. One of the most common words I heard around Italy among friends was “Cazzo” . Which is actually profanity, and I tend to sue it on and off as a way of saying “Thank you” which was what I thought it meant!

Boy I’m lucky I don’t look Italian!